Chapter 1

Just when I thought I could pull it off, I let out a double tequila burp. I can't stop tasting the shit. I 'm in the ultimate purgatory: that place simultaneously blending being hungover and being drunk. What seemed pretty manageable last night has a whole different view from this bus. Man, I just went out to meet Ray and Cindy for a few Margaritas at Rio Bravo and just like that, it's two in the morning and I'm doing shots of Wild Turkey in the Blarney Stone, arguing politics with some toothless 80-year-old guy.

The sun is coming up, and somewhere someone is thinking how beautiful this is and what a great day it's going to be. That's not me. The bus turns left onto Industrial Road and passes a huge cemetery that is jam-packed with acres and acres of tombstones all on top of each other. It's fuckin' packed tighter than the six-train. Some low budget tombstones are actually outside the metal fence. I guess they got a discount. A guy is walking his dog and the dog is taking a leak on one of the exterior tombstones. This gives me a degree of satisfaction, as someone is having a worse day than me.

When I graduate from State and get a real job, I'm buying a Maserati GranCabrio. That's what I tell my friend Cliff Tsan sometimes. He keeps me down to earth and tells me to start liking buses, because I'll never have any job but odd jobs, like the one I have now, carrying beef carcasses. "You know why they're called odd jobs?" he says.

"Because they're really strange?" I answer.

"No, asswipe," Cliff says solemnly. "Odd comes from an Old Norse word meaning the tip of a spear. Therefore, an odd job is a job that makes you feel like you're being stabbed with a spear." Cliff is an English major whose father is a famous novelist, so maybe he's right; then again, maybe he's just busting my balls.

The bus hits a pothole, and my neck goes right through my brain. That's what it feels like, anyway. I don't know why I go out drinking with my friends on a work night, but sometimes I do. Like last night. It's not like I can even afford it; I'm supposed to be saving money for school. But I don't want the guys to think I'm an asshole.

The bus hits a pothole, and my neck goes right through my brain. That's what it feels like, anyway. I don't know why I go out drinking with my friends on a work night, but sometimes I do. Like last night. It's not like I can even afford it; I'm supposed to be saving money for school. But I don't want the guys to think I'm an asshole.

Through a red haze of pain I see the dairy factory on the left, pink and gold in the light of the rising sun. I wish I had a job there. I could run the machine that separates the milk from the cream, or drive a tanker truck. Nice clean jobs. But no, the part of Maspeth, Queens, that I claim as my little piece of heaven is staring right at me. In front is a honkin' big sign in hemoglobin red and raw bone white reading Kosher World Meat Factory: The highest standards in this world and beyond.

I don't belong on this bus, and I don't belong at Kosher World. But I don't belong with the hard-drinking, money-hemorrhaging crowd either, like Cliff and his friends. So where do I belong? That is the million-dollar question, Regis. But first I've got to try to do something about my current situation.

My watch reads 6:15 a.m. as I enter the building and get struck in the face with the stench of blood, tripe and oozing intestines. Miraculously, my stomach stays where it's supposed to be. Better yet, I'm on time. It's June 23rd and I'm bundled in long underwear, flannels and a thick orange jumpsuit, the uniform of the serious meat handler. I'm sweating like a racehorse. Christ, this is so unnatural. But the money's good, real good. There's no one back at college making this kind of money, at least not legally. Cliff and Mike Katz have internships at a swanky law firm, but you can't eat prestige. I'm pulling down $18 an hour, plus time-and-a-half for each hour of overtime and double time for Saturday nights and holidays. I know if I bust my ass and stay focused this summer, I can cover a decent nut on my school expenses for a semester or so.

Finish my last year of school and start making some real money. Hell, I've handled this crap for a whole month so far. Now, if I just get through the day without getting fired, and hopefully without puking, I'll be golden.

A couple of guys pass by and mutter 'hi' under their breath. I say 'hi' back, still trying to hold down the contents of my gut. There's a lot of noise-men yelling, trucks roaring into the yard, the thumping of the packing machines. My head feels like a boiler under way too much pressure. I shuffle off in the direction of my workstation, but I'm taking my time, trying to ignore the damn smells and noises.

The essence of my job is twofold. I am a grunt. I unload sides of beef off trucks in the mornings and in the afternoons take huge racks of hotdogs off a washing apparatus and load them onto a conveyer belt for wrapping.

I got this job through a connection and basically get paid as a union guy but don't belong to the union. The union, by the way, is poetry. They have negotiated time off, vacations, breaks and benefits out the wazoo. You don't want to work too hard or you can hear it, "Hey fuckin' college boy, are you get­ ting paid by the box or the hour?" You see, all the nice gentlemen here would like to work at least one hour of overtime a day. At time-and-a-half, working one hour extra a day means getting paid six days for five days of work. Seems pretty slimy to me, but I don't have a wife and kids to support. Plus, management ain't exactly angels either.

My stomach gurgles menacingly. I know for a fact that I am so sick that I'm not going to make it today unless I get away from the stench that's weaving its way into my nostrils and into my digestive tract. Maybe I should have called in and taken my chances, but they just don't take that weak stuff from grunts. I'd be gone and I need this job. But if I get sick on the meat, I won't have much of a future either.

I decide to face up to my problem. I see Severan Reynard giving directions to two guys carrying a crate of ribs. Sev calls the shots on the floor. Sev doesn't say much and he really doesn't have to. He's 5'11" but seems bigger. He's got a body as wide as a truck with a decent size gut and skin so dark it actually looks black. His goatee is black and so are his eyes. His eyes are what do the commanding. When he wants something done, he opens those black eyes wide and points. The whites of his eyes are such a contrast to his other features that it shakes people. It's fuckin' freaky.

The funny thing is, Sev runs the place but he's not the real boss. Supposedly, there's a foreman. I haven't seen him yet but I heard he 's some lazy sack of shit that got "put" in the job. Sev doesn't have the title, but I guess running the place beats taking orders from someone else. Everyone, including the foreman, knows Sev's the best guy, so it just works. Word is he did some wild stuff in the Marines like 15 or 20 years ago. Obviously the guy has been around. Supposedly he's a pretty straight shooter; I figure that if I go and talk to him and let him know how sick I am, maybe I can pull some other duty today.

Sev is talking to Sal and Frank in the doorway of the employee lounge. The lounge is a large room with 20 foldout cafeteria tables. In the comer there is a soda machine, a candy machine and a table with a microwave. It doesn't look like the guys are saying anything monumental, so I figure this is as good a time as any to talk to Sev.

Click here to download the complete version of Chapter 1.